Tap, tap, tap went the little girl's shoes, her ice-blonde pigtails swinging with the abandon of youth. Rhoda looks so sweet, so why does her glance send chills up our spine? The Bad Seed was a triumph of creepiness, and the unsentimental ending ratchets up the cinematic dread so high, that even as a jaded teen viewer, I was left spinning the unfortunate family's future in my head for hours after the screen when black, then blue.
I saw the book by the same name in the Strand a little while ago and picked it up right away. I have never been burned by reading "based-on books" like The Talented Mr. Ripley and The Big Sleep, so I thought William March’s take on child sociopaths would be a great pre-summer read. I was very, very right, as evidenced by being very, very tense until the last part of the book when March bowed to his time’s interest in heredity and genetics’ influence on behavior. In a certain way, the film’s ending was much more effective by leaving the girl’s behavior unexplained and unchallenged.
What The Bad Seed offers on the page is an excellent cast of supporting characters, including a charming brother and sister neighbor team, and an even more menacing and malignant groundskeeper for Rhoda to spar with. March does a great job getting inside Christine, Rhoda’s mother, and renders her maternal emotions and increasing dread with a sensitive and detailed eye. Rhoda, in print, has muddy brown hair and is much less perky than her celluloid counterpart. Her ordinariness makes her actions even more monstrous, and March’s descriptions of Rhoda tending to her bangs are a bit of throwaway-line pricelessness.
If you are looking for a great thriller or a tense look at 1950s America from a woman’s point of view, get his right away. If you just love good stories, you can wait a little bit, but you still need to pick this up soon, whether you have a beach vacation planned or not.